Holiday Feature | BYU Studies

Holiday Feature

Celebrating the Constitution of the United States
July 4, 2017
Holiday Feature
Celebrating the Constitution of the United States
BYU Studies Staff

In the early months of 1844, missionaries were called to go forth to both preach the gospel and promote Joseph Smith's candidacy for president. Joseph's platform was laid out in a pamphlet, General Smith's Views of the Powers and Policy of the Government of the United States, and copies were printed by the thousands for the missionaries to distribute. As one might expect, constitutional issues were central to his platform. Unlike other party platforms, this one quoted the Preamble in full, and it spoke throughout of "the people," "unity" and "union." It further praised George Washington for promoting the "common welfare" and "providing for the common defense," repeatedly advocated peace and "tranquility," extolled the blessings of "liberty" for all, and promised to administer government "with an eye single to the glory of the people." This pamphlet spoke directly of the Constitution: "We are friendly to the Constitution and laws and wish to see them enforced."

In his Views of the Powers and Policy of the Government, the Prophet stated that the power of government rests with the people. He said, "In the United States the people are the government, and their united voice is the only sovereign that should rule, the only power that should be obeyed." Thus, he admonished, "The aspirations and expectations of a virtuous people, environed with so wise, so liberal, so deep, so broad, and so high a charter of equal rights as appears in said Constitution, ought to be treated by those to whom the administration of the laws is entrusted with as much sanctity as the prayers of the Saints are treated in heaven."

Likewise, the business of the Church was to be done by common consent of the people: "All things shall be done by common consent in the church." As Joseph explained, "No official member of the Church has authority to go into any branch thereof, and ordain any minister for that church, unless it is by the voice of that branch." The unanimous voice of the people was always the ideal, and in some cases it was explicitly required.

Excerpted from John W. Welch, “Joseph Smith and the Constitution,” in Sustaining the Law: Joseph Smith’s Legal Encounters, ed. Gordon A. Madsen, Jeffrey N. Walker, and John W. Welch, 2014, pages 9-10, 32.

To read the complete text of General Smith’s Views of the Powers and Policy of the Government of the United States, click here for the copy at the library at Brigham Young University. Other copies are also available on the Internet.